Wreath Laying Ceremony at VOC Memorial

Original post, June 15, 2017

It couldn’t have been a more beautiful summer morning on June 9, 2017 to hold the 10th annual ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial located on a triangle of land at the intersection of Massachusetts & New Jersey Avenues & G Street in northwest DC within view of the U.S. Capitol and 2 blocks from Union Station.

By 9 AM, the sidewalk leading up to the Lady Liberty monument of the VOC memorial was ablaze with colorful flower displays and wreaths of all shapes and forms from 23 embassies and over thirty ethnic and human rights organizations brought there to be placed at the foot of the memorial to commemorate the millions of victims of communism who perished throughout the world under totalitarian regimes. The brutal dictatorships which caused their deaths have now disappeared in many countries of Eastern & Central Europe, the Baltics and the USSR yet still flourish in many places in the world like Cuba, North Korea and China.

Before the roll-call of nations and organizations for the wreath-laying ceremony, several hundred people gathered to listen to the keynote speaker, Dr. Vytautus Landsbergis, a hero of the opposition movement in Lithuania during the Cold War, who became the head of the newly reestablished Lithuanian state, and helped shepherd the country through the process of writing a new constitution and establishing new governmental institutions. In his speech, Dr. Landsbergis spoke not only about Soviet brutality in Lithuania, but to the universality of communism’s attack on the human soul. And he warned: “The events of current days seem to be bringing us back in their direction, and new monuments for bloody dictators, like Stalin or the Kims, are still being erected.”

Dr. Landsbergis announced the recipient of the VOC Truman-Reagan medal this year: Dr. Mart Laar, a historian, professor, and scholar who became the first official Prime Minister of Estonia’s Second Republic in 1992.

All this history was running through the minds of the attendees as we lined up in the ceremonial line. AFGE Local 1812 Local President, Tim Shamble, and Union Legislative Coordinator, Marie Ciliberti carried the a beautiful, multi-colored wreath to the foot of the VOC memorial and placed it there in the name of the VOA China Branch broadcasters as well as on behalf of all the VOA and Radio/TV Marti broadcasters represented by AFGE Local 1812.

At the very end of the ceremony, there was a musical interlude offered by Wuilly Moisés Arteaga, a 23-year-old Venezuelan violinist and freedom advocate who recently became an icon of the movement protesting the abuses of the Maduro regime in Caracas. Wuilly gained worldwide attention in May when he joined the chaotic street protests.

“I went out to protest with my only weapon,” he told The Washington Post, referring to his violin.

While it was a somber event, it was also comforting to know that the people in the assembled crowd were there to remember the courage of those who fought the dark days of communism. From the stories of many who escaped tyranny, we know for a fact that our VOA broadcasts did give hope and comfort to many who were trapped behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains. Even though this dreadful system is not as prevalent as in the past, there are still places in the world that continue to suffer the stifling restrictions of this defunct political philosophy, places like Cuba, North Korea, and China. And it is making a resurgence in places like Russia.

The Union hopes to return to the VOC event once again next year.

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